I'm often asked if I really go home, after a day in a restaurant kitchen, and make dinner in my own. Even after a day in July in a restaurant kitchen, when I swear I could bake a cake in the car driving home, the answer remains: yes.
That said, I don't always cook dinner. It's July, remember, which means that I often can't stand the idea of anything that generates heat any more than anyone else can. Instead, I stand in front of the freezer and/or refrigerator and wait for dinner to essentially present itself.
My freezer is my friend. When I cook any kind of seed, grain, or legume, I always make more than I need at the moment. Always. I am not making that up for the sake of a good post. I cool the leftovers, then freeze them in (labeled) ziplock bags, flattened so they stack easily and I can see what I have. An excellent habit to cultivate if you haven't already.
After cleaning and rearranging the freezer recently, I ended up with a couple of stacks of frozen thises and thats. Faced with the need to invent something to take to a picnic that I could make in advance, hold overnight in the refrigerator, and transport without spilling or sloshing, the solution was obvious. Salad. And hold the mayo.
As for layering the salad, use a clear glass bowl if you have one, or read here (http://thesolitarycook.wordpress.com/2013/07/21/seven-layer-salad/) about an epiphany I had regarding the perfect serving vessels. —boulangere
enough for 1 large bowl or 8 to 10 half-pint jars
FOR THE DRESSING
2 ounces red wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon whole-grain Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
8 ounces olive oil
Sea or kosher salt and pepper to taste
FOR THE SALAD
2 cups cooked black beans
2 cups cooked rice of any color (I had Bhutanese red)
2 cups cooked lentils (I had yellow)
2 cups corn stripped from the cob, or frozen (thawed)
2 or 3 ribs celery, finely diced
1 large or 2 smallish red onions, finely diced
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, 1/2" dice
In This Recipe
Make the dressing. Whisk together the vinegar, lime juice, mustard, cumin and coriander. Add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking all the while. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Finely dice the celery and red onion (1/4" dice). Peel the cucumber (or not, if you don't mind the skin; I find it bitter), slice it in half lengthwise, and use a spoon to scrape out the seeds. That is where much of the water is, and if not removed, your salad will accumulate excess water in the bottom of the bowl. Dice the cucumber into 1/2" pieces.
Begin layering your salad. For my jars, I used about a generous 2 tablespoons of each ingredient. If you are using a bowl, don't make the layers more than a half-inch to an inch deep; you want to be able to see the beautiful striations, and each serving spoonful should yield a combination of them all. I began with black beans on the bottom because they are the sturdiest of all the ingredients and can stand to soak up dressing that accumulates at the bottom. Next, I layered the celery because, again, it is hardy; too, its color is beautiful against the black beans. I spooned about 2 tablespoons of dressing over the celery. Next, in went some yellow lentils, followed by a layer of red rice, and more dressing. The red onions, yellow corn, red rice, tender cucumbers and some more dressing finished filling the jars. I set the lids in place, screwed on the rings, and stored the jars of salad in the refrigerator overnight. Plan to do the same if you are layering the salad in a bowl, and be sure to cover it tightly with plastic since there are some strong flavors and scents that will be best retained in the salad, not flavoring your butter and eggs.
To transport the jars, I simply put them back into the box in which they came. I try to make sure people return the lids and rings to me, but inevitably some go missing. Fortunately, they are easily and inexpensively replaced.
So stack your freezer with leftovers, go wave eight bucks or so at a checkout clerk as you grab a dozen of your own jars to stash away (keep the box!), and you, too, can look brilliantly clever. To yourself, at least.